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Update: City officials say they're pressing for end to bus strike

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Update: City officials say they're pressing for end to bus strike

Romero: 'Hiring, housing and feeding scabs for $215k per week is ludicrous'

  • Paul Ingram/

Tucson City Manager Michael Ortega said Wednesday that he and other officials have pressed the private management of Sun Tran to negotiate with striking bus drivers.

Teamsters with Local 104 and representatives of Professional Transit Management have traded press releases and at least one pair of contract proposals over the four weeks of the strike, but have reportedly not met face-to-face to discuss a settlement since workers walked off the job last month.

"It's important to recognize the support that this City Council and the mayor have toward labor," Ortega.

"Our responsibility is to the people of Tucson — those folks who need the bus service to get to school, to get to work, to get to doctor's appointments,"

"I have asked, suggested, told TransDev (the company that owns PTM) that they need to be at the table and make sure that this strike is resolved as expeditiously as possible," he said.

The strike is saving the city about $145,000 each week because of drivers not working and buses not being fueled, Ortega said.

That money will be returned to the city's general fund and not retained by the management company, he said. Under the management contract, PTM continues to be paid their full fee to run the system despite the reduced level of service, Ortega said.

But Councilwoman Regina Romero has indicated that the temporary workers being hired by PTM are costly.

"Hiring, housing and feeding scabs for $215,000 per week is ludicrous," she said in a memo last week to Ortega and her Council colleagues. "I understand PTM/TransDev using those union-busting techniques but I think that this mayor and Council don't stand for that. If the focus from the beginning was in fact to end the strike and provide service to our riders, then net savings could and should be used to reinvest in the workers."

While the mayor and some members of the Council were present at the meeting, the city attorney advised them to not take questions as they would be in violation of state open meeting laws due to their not being a 24 hour notice that there would be a quorum of the Council present.

Members of the Council — especially the three Democratic incumbents who are facing Republican challengers in November's election — are under pressure from labor groups to make a deal that would satisfy at least some of the demands of the striking drivers and mechanics.

But Councilman Steve Kozachik, not facing an election this year, thinks it's time for the strike to end. He would like management to set a deadline — "a date certain" — for workers to return.

"I don't give a shit. They need to get back to work," he said after the news conference. "We have a transit budget — they have $2.7 million to allocate as they wish. They can give it to new hires, to all employees, whatever."

Kozachik brushed off a suggestion that his colleagues should court labor support, noting that he pushed back against the police union when he successfully ran for re-election (although he didn't have an opponent on the ballot, it should be noted).

"These aren't careers," he said of seats on the Council.

Councilman Paul Cunningham said, "I just want PTM and the union to be back at the table, in the same room talking to each other. They haven't been, since this started."

"We can play shoulda, coulda, woulda about a lot of things, but the bottom line is that I'd like to see this strike settled now," said the East Side Democrat. "Neither side will be completely happy, but it needs to get done."

"But the only role (mayor and Council) can play is to get them back to the table. That's what we're doing," he said.

Other labor groups, including the AFL-CIO, have begun to discuss withdrawing their generally stalwart support of the Democrats over Sun Tran's hiring of what unions derisively call "scab" workers. PTM has contracted with a California company to hire temporary contract drivers, advertising on Craiglist in big cities across the country, including Los Anglese and Orlando.

"This is a pivotal point in labor's history in Tucson," Rebekah Friend, state AFL-CIO executive director, told Sentinel columnist Blake Morlock. "Will it affect local politics? Of course it will."

Cunningham said hiring replacement workers "flies in the face of good faith negotiations" in a memo to his colleagues on Wednesday, with a copy sent to Sun Tran GM Kate Riley.

"Slapping a Band-Aid on the problem by bringing in out-of-state workers does nothing to advance" ending the strike and restoring full bus service, he said.

"Antagonizing the union" by hiring temps "takes us in the other direction," Cunningham said.

Kelly Lawton, the Republican running in Ward 2, posted this report on Facebook on Wednesday, endorsing a move to break the drivers' union.

"I remember when air traffic controllers went on strike, President Reagan ordered them back to work and those that didn't comply simply found themselves out of work," Lawton said.

Romero asked Thursday that the strike and PTM's management contract be discussed during next week's Council meeting.

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